Even after airspace closed by volcanic ash reopens, the hordes of would-be travelers waiting at airports around the world shouldn't count on catching the first flight out. "An international airline system is such a carefully orchestrated network that any disruption, especially of this size, is really going to take many days for operations to get back to normal," a rep for a major industry group tells CNN. Getting back to normal could take as long as 6 days.
Travelers who already hold tickets for a specific flight have priority for the simple reason that if they're bumped, the airline is on the hook for compensating them. Carriers are far more likely to add flights and to use larger aircraft on already-scheduled flights. "The main priority now is to work with the aircraft that we currently have on the ground and all over the world and get those back into some sort of rotation," says a Lufthansa rep. "This is worse than 9/11 for us."